Skip to main content

Untitled

May 2024
1min read

Who is James K. Polk?” The Whigs promptly began campaigning on that derision, and there, were Democrats who repeated it with a sick concern. The auesium eventually got an unequivocal answer. Polk had come up the ladder, he was an orthodox party Democrat. He had been Jackson’s mouthpiece and floor leader m the House of Representatives, had managed the anti-Bank legislation, had risen to the Speakership, had been governor of Tennessee. But sometimes the belt line shapes an instrument of use and precision. Folk’s mind was rigid, narrow, obstinate, far from first-rate. He sincerely believed that only Democrats were truly American, Whigs being either the dupes or the pensioners of England —more, that not only wisdom and patriotism were Democratic monopolies but honor and breeding as well. “Although a Whig he seems a gentleman” is a not uncommon characterisation in his diary. He, was pompous, suspicious, and secretive; he had no humor; he could be vindictive; and he saw spooks and villains. …

But if his mind was narrow it was also powerful and he had guts. If he was orthodox, his integrity was absolute and he could not be scared, manipulated, or brought to heel. No one bluffed him, no one moved him with direct or oblique pressure. Furthermore, he knew how to get things done, which is the first necessity of government, and he. knew what he wanted done, which is the second. He came into office with clear ideas and a fixed determination and he was to stand by them through as strenuous an administration as any before Lincoln’s. Congress had governed the United States for eight years before him and, after a fashion, was to govern it for the next twelve years after him. But Polk was to govern the United States from 1845 to 1849. He was to be the only “strong” President between Jackson and Lincoln. He was to fix the mold of the future in America down to 1860, and therefore for a long time afterward. That is who James K. Polk was.

We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.

Donate